A former Southern Baptist Convention official says he will resist any attempt by city officials to enforce an order to close a homeless shelter located on church property.
Citing the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Pastor Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., issued a trespass warning to any agent of the city attempting to forcibly remove residents from a homeless dormitory built next door to the church in 1999.
Drake said in an Internet broadcast that the City of Buena Park has revoked the 1999 occupancy certificate. A Jan. 30 order gave the church 10 days to move people out of the building and 30 days for the structure to be demolished.
Based “on the authority of God’s Holy Word,” Drake said the church would remain open “so that these people the city are kicking out don’t have to go to sleep in the street.”
Construction of the dormitory resolved a long-running dispute with the city that began when First Southern Baptist Church agreed to open its sanctuary as temporary shelter for 235 residents forced from their homes by a flood. Drake says the city presented the church with a certificate of appreciation in 1995.
When most returned to their homes, about 40 people who had previously been homeless remained at the church. Drake converted the church recreation building and parking lot into a homeless shelter, violating several city ordinances.
The city claimed the makeshift shelter was a breeding ground for crime and prompting neighbor complaints. Drake insisted the real problem was that officials did not want to admit homelessness is a problem in the gateway city to tourist destinations including Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland.
In 1997 a jury deliberated 16 hours before finding Drake guilty of four misdemeanor charges. Each count carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A judge sentenced him to 1,500 hours of community service — which he credited to the pastor for his work with the needy — and a $100 fine, which was also waived.
Drake issued a press release Jan. 5 claiming his ministry to homeless persons of Buena Park and surrounding cities is protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. A separate statement on Facebook accused the city of trying to seize private property without due process, violating the Fifth Amendment.
“While religion must sometimes yield to immediate public safety issues, as the chief pastor of this sanctuary I do not know of any such exigent risks to the residents of the dormitory,” Drake said in his message to city officials. “While your notice complains of vague issues, nowhere does it cite a single person injured, a single fire reported, or any other dangers to the residents.”
Citing both legal and spiritual authority, Drake told officials he “will not consent” to any agent entering his sanctuary based on the Jan. 30 notice, claiming “the severe mental and emotional stress” residents would suffer if they are forced to leave.
“Any illegal acts by such agent will be met with the appropriate legal response,” he warned, including citizen’s arrest for violation of civil rights.
Drake’s church is small — according to its listing in a church finder database at sbc.net First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park has 80 members and an average attendance of 60 — but his penchant for attracting publicity is disproportionate to its size.
He got his first national platform at business sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings with numerous motions from the floor including the Disney boycott resolution passed by the convention in 1997.
The following year messengers rewarded Drake by electing him second vice president — a largely ceremonial position — as an example of the many small-church pastors who at personal sacrifice faithfully showed up year after year to cast ballots for conservative candidates during the “conservative resurgence” of the 1980s.
Drake quickly broke the mold of predecessors in the office, personally producing stationery labeled “Southern Baptist Convention, Office of the 2nd Vice President.” He used the letterhead to endorse former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, prompting an inquiry by the IRS into whether he violated rules for tax-exempt charities and rebuke from convention officials.
In 2008 Drake ran for vice president of the United States as Alan Keyes running mate with the American Independent Party. That gave him a platform for a 2009 interview with syndicated talk show host Alan Colmes, where he dropped a bombshell by saying he was praying for the death of President Barack Obama by invoking the kind of “imprecatory prayer” used in Psalms to solicit harm on the enemies of God.
He filed one of a number of “birther” lawsuits claiming that President Obama was not born in America. Last year when candidate Donald Trump claimed the birther controversy was invented by the Hillary Clinton campaign, Drake responded that he and Alan Keyes deserved the credit.
Drake’s frequent controversies took a toll on his image in the SBC. Running for convention president in 2008, he finished last in a six-way race garnering 45 votes.